In the fall of 1957, I was a young Air Force radar operator at Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli, Libya.
Only a year out of radar school I was already a seasoned operator at a site on the shore of the Mediterranean, one of the busiest air bases in the world.
From our vantage point on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, I had already observed the British and French bombing armada cross the Mediterranean Sea en route to its target, the Suez Canal.
A small group of us had been assigned to dispatch at a moment's notice to our NATO allies, and were required to keep several days supplies of clothing and other necessities in our barracks rooms. We were drilled at all hours of the day or night, and we boarded waiting trucks to take us to the base terminal only to return to our barracks.
Then things changed.
One night when we arrived at the terminal there were two aircraft, all warmed up, their props signaled they were ready when we were.
I found myself boarding an Air Force C54 in early morning darkness, with one week of clothing and other necessary supplies, with no idea where I was going. Others on board that flight and the slower Air Force C47 Aircraft that followed were as unenlightened. Many hours later in the slow moving C54, an unidentified Air Force Lt. Colonel carrying a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist emerged from the front of the aircraft to announce to us where we were going and what we would be doing there.
There was a border dispute between Syria and Turkey, an event that had quickly escalated into an international crisis which brought the forces of the Soviet Union and NATO into a face off. The Soviet Union had announced its support of Syria.
Our radars had two purposes. The primary purpose was to provide surveillance over the air space of the borders in dispute and to direct interceptors to targets, should that become necessary. Second, the geographical location from which we would operate would allow us to cover a sizable area in the Soviet Union.
As history will attest, the Turkish and Syrian dispute ended without erupting into a major conflict.
For 57 days and nights our radar crews maintained vigilance over the skies without incident. At least without reported incident. At least without reported incident at that time.
There was something going on in the sky that we had never seen before and something we could not reveal.
Each day at the same time a radar target would appear, outbound from Incerlik Air Base, with flight characteristics unlike that we had been trained to recognize — from the first appearance of the target as it emerged from the ground clutter at a steeper rate than we thought possible. No known aircraft at the time had the capability to do what this one did. It would climb completely above the upper limits of our height/range radar (hri) by the time it had reached ten miles from takeoff.
It would cross the Black sea and all day long it would do what I called loitering over The Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Block. The more things change…
To read how I discovered the special hanger where the U-2 was kept at Incerlik Air Base, read my book, "The Arkansas Project."
Dave Henderson was born in 1937 and lived his earliest years in Hickman Kentucky on the banks of the Mississippi River, once called the prettiest town on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Hickman was blessed to have a Carnegie Library at that time. It was there that his love of reading and dreaming began. A highlight of his professional career was to have led the public response to General Westmoreland's battle with CBS over their TV program, "The Uncounted Enemy, A Vietnam Deception." He also served as the General's press spokesman during the following years leading up to and during his libel suit in Judge Pierre Leval's Federal District court in New York. Dave contributed his services and expenses during those years. He previously served on The American Spectator board of directors. He is the author of the book "The Arkansas Project: From the United States Jaycees to the United States Justice Department and Whitewater." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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